First Bank of Nigeria Plc (FirstBank), established in 1894, is a premier bank in West Africa and the leading financial services solutions provider in Nigeria. The bank was founded by Sir Alfred Jones, a shipping magnate from Liverpool, UK. With its head office originally in Liverpool, the bank commenced business on a modest scale in Lagos under the name Bank of British West Africa.
In 1912 the bank acquired its first competitor, the Bank of Nigeria, which had been established in 1899 (as the Anglo-African Bank) by the Royal Niger Company. In 1957 the bank changed its name from Bank of British West Africa to Bank of West Africa. In 1966, following its merger with Standard Bank, UK, the bank adopted the name Standard Bank of West Africa Limited and, in 1969, it was incorporated locally as the Standard Bank of Nigeria Limited in line with the Companies Decree of 1968. Changes in the name of the bank also occurred in 1979 and 1991 to First Bank of Nigeria Limited and First Bank of Nigeria Plc, respectively.
FirstBank has international presence through its subsidiary, FBN Bank (UK) Limited in London with a branch in Paris, and its representative offices in Johannesburg and Beijing. With 1.3 million shareholders globally, FirstBank is the second most capitalised stock on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. The bank also has an unlisted Global Depository Receipt programme.
Leveraging experience that spans over a century of dependable service, FirstBank has continued to build relationships and alliances with key sectors of the economy that have been strategic to the wellbeing, growth and development of the country. With its huge asset base and expansive branch network, as well as continuous re-invention, FirstBank is one of Nigeria’s strongest banking franchises, and remains a market leader in the nation’s financial services industry.
Strong returns, superior value
The ongoing consolidation in the Nigerian financial services sector, which started in 2005, has shown FirstBank to be one of Nigeria’s strongest and most profitable financial services groups.
In repositioning the bank for both domestic and global competition, it had recourse to raise additional capital. FirstBank’s Hybrid Offer, popularly called ‘The Big Offer,’ set an unprecedented landmark with a subscription in excess of 750 percent, and was lauded as the biggest and most successful in the history of public offers in Nigeria. The bank’s epoch-making achievement was again reinforced when it became the first quoted company in Nigeria to achieve the feat of hitting the trillion naira mark in market capitalisation, the clearest evidence of the market’s estimation of its worth.
FirstBank’s strategy is driven by the two critical imperatives of modernisation and growth, both organic and inorganic. The bank’s growth strategy is to leverage windows of opportunity presented by the ongoing reforms in the industry and the global economies, which have allowed it to better position its strengths and value proposition, while raising the industry’s competition stakes.
With over 600 business locations in Nigeria, the bank has one of the largest domestic sales networks in the country, all online and real time. As a market leader in the financial services sector, FirstBank pioneered initiatives in international money transfer and electronic banking in the country, and is arguably Nigeria’s most diversified financial services group, serving more than five million customers.
In its early years, FirstBank worked closely with the colonial governments of British West Africa by performing the traditional functions of a central bank, including the issue and distribution of specie in the West African sub-region. Subsequently, the bank recorded impressive growth, opening its first branch office in Accra, Ghana in 1896, and a second branch in Freetown, Sierra Leone two years later in 1898. By 1963, the bank had 114 branches in West Africa. These marked the beginning of the bank’s international banking operations.
In 2002, FirstBank established FBN Bank (UK) Limited – a wholly owned subsidiary and the first Nigerian-owned bank in the UK regulated by the Financial Services Authority. In 2007, FBN Bank (UK) obtained authorisation to set up its Paris office to serve as a marketing base to service francophone West Africa. FirstBank also has representative offices in Johannesburg, South Africa (established 2004) and Beijing, China (since 2009).
With this global reach FirstBank provides prospective investors wishing to explore the vast business opportunities that abound in Nigeria with an internationally competitive world-class brand and a credible financial partner.
FirstBank has 10 subsidiary companies in Nigeria, which provide a comprehensive range of retail and corporate financial services, including capital market operations, private equity/venture capital, pension fund management, registrarship, trusteeship, mortgages, insurance brokerage, bureaux de change, life insurance and microfinance. These diverse operations, delivered through widespread service outlets, ensure the foothold of the FirstBank group as a leading financial services provider in Nigeria.
A nation-building model
In the last decade, by playing key roles in the Nigerian government’s privatisation and commercialisation scheme, FirstBank has led the financing of private investment in infrastructure development in the Nigerian economy.
A key element of the bank’s strategy is its continued focus on retail banking/consumer financing, gradually shifting towards a high-yield diversified portfolio by aggressively targeting the middle class consumer market.
The market opportunity is evident from the fact that consumer spending – which is a major driver of domestic demand in developed economies – still constitutes a relatively low percentage of GDP in Nigeria.
The business of FirstBank is operated through branches which serve as comprehensive product engines, overseen by business development offices and regional directorates. These are designed to facilitate and give direction to market activities within the region, and to better serve customers nationwide.
Other channels of service delivery include a modern centralised customer response centre available 24 hours, seven days a week (FirstContact), ATMs, internet banking (FirstOnline) and banking on mobile phones (FirstMobile).
Leading governance standards
FirstBank’s corporate governance practice remains at the industry’s leading-edge. Its continuing commitment to strong corporate governance and improved disclosure levels in the reporting of its financials was reinforced in November 2008 when it won the Nigerian Stock Exchange Quoted Company of the Year Award.
FirstBank is one of the first two quoted companies in Africa to adopt the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS). Consistent with its pace-setting good governance principles, the IFRS regime facilitates transparency, understanding, relevance, reliability and comparability of the bank’s qualitative financial statements comparable with global standards.
The bank’s prime status has been reinforced with the recent award of the prestigious ISO/IEC 27001:2005 certification, the world’s highest accreditation for information protection and security from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). By this certification, FirstBank has distinguished itself as the first organisation in Nigeria to achieve ISO 27001, which is an affirmation that the bank has adopted and complied with the highest known standards in information security globally.
Strength in people
As the bank grows its footprints locally and internationally, contributing positively to its customers’ value chains, it hires personnel with the unique skill sets needed to fully leverage its operations. FirstBank is one of the leading private sector employers of graduate-level personnel in the country.
FirstBank’s staff development policy recognises the invaluable contribution that human resources make to growth and development. Consequently, its human capital management initiatives are focused on providing the necessary support for staff, departments and various business drivers to enable the bank to achieve its goals and objectives.
In further evidence of the bank’s strength, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch, have rated the bank highly. Standard and Poor’s assigned the bank a long term rating of BB- and a short term rating of B, mirroring the country’s long term BB and short term B ratings by the same agency. S&P notes that “the ratings on FirstBank are supported by the bank’s good market position, adequate capitalisation and moderated financial performance.”
Fitch assigned the bank ratings of B+ (long term) and B (short term), while also affirming the bank’s A+ and F1 (nga) national long-term and short-term respective ratings for the past seven years up to 2009.
Global Credit Rating Company Limited, a Securities and Exchange Commission licensed rating agency, also assigned the bank national long-term and short-term ratings of A and A1+ respectively, with positive outlook, for three successive years.
FirstBank has indeed reinforced its role as a leader in the financial services sector in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa with activities and interventions to depict the brand pillars of Leadership, Enterprise, Safety and Security, and Service Excellence.
And the bank has received recognition for its achievements. FirstBank was first listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in March 1971 and has since won the exchange’s annual President’s Merit Award for the best financial report in the Nigerian banking industry 13 times. The bank has won the Global Finance magazine awards for Best Bank in Nigeria, Best Trade Finance Bank in Nigeria and Best Foreign Exchange Bank in Nigeria for six consecutive years, as well as EMEA Finance Magazine award for Best Bank in Nigeria in 2009 and 2010.